The return of smart storytelling

The return of smart storytelling

A popular opinion is that we’re dumbing down our media – that our attention spans are getting shorter with every year that passes. In reality, there is an increasing demand for more complex, longform narratives that take time to create and consume.

Londoners welcomed the launch of the first ever UK conference dedicated to longform journalism and storytelling in May this year. Well Told brought together reporters, authors, documentarians and broadcasters from around the world to share storytelling skills and techniques, and surrender their secrets about what makes a good story.

Well Told marks the return of smart storytelling. There is an increasing demand for stories that last – a rising trend in longform and narrative stories that take time to create and consume, that teach us something new about the world or challenge us to see things in a different way.

Recently, the podcast S-Town went viral, achieving ten million downloads in the first four days after its release, and a record-breaking forty million in its first month. Initially presenting itself as a straightforward piece of true crime reportage, S-Town is a masterclass in burying the lead, that defies expectation and transcends genre. Many have described its intricate structure as novelistic: five years in the making, S-Town is an intricate journey that surprises the listener at every turn and requires patience, focus and a seven-hour commitment to reach its stunning conclusion. But rather than alienating people looking for pure escapism, the podcast has captured people’s imagination with its passion, detail and painstaking production.

The trend also extends to the fictional stories we enjoy, with slower, more complex television shows becoming popular in recent years. Better Call Saul, The Bridge, even Game of Thrones, do away with instant episodic gratification in favour of richer, series-long narrative arcs involving multifaceted characters and elaborate sub-plots.

Although it’s popular opinion that we’re dumbing down our media, that our attention spans are shrinking with every year that passes, Well Told and S-Town prove that in a world of fake news, sensationalist soundbites and 140-character tirades, people are hungry for smarter storytelling. As Giles Wilson, the founder of Well Told, puts it: ‘the need for creative journalists to be on top of their storytelling skills has never been greater.’